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Saint Canute's Cathedral (Sankt Knuds Kirke)

Very close to the walking streets in downtown Odense is one of the finest gothic structures in Denmark, Saint Canute’s Cathedral (Sankt Knuds Kirke).  The Cathedral is sometimes called, “Odense Cathedral” (Odense Domkirke).  The Cathedral is worthy of a visit for tourists with an enthusiasm for history.  The Cathedral has two main attractions for: the intriguing skeletal remains of “King Canute the IV” or “Canute IV the Saint” (Knud IV den Hellige) and his younger brother Benedikt, and a beautiful wood carved altarpiece from the early 16th century.

Canute’s Cathedral is one of the finest tourist attractions in Odense. Visitors should certainly make an effort to make their way down into the crypt.  On display in the crypt of the Cathedral are the skeletal remains of one of Denmark’s most famous king’s, “Canute IV the Saint” (Knud IV den Hellige), and his brother Benedikt.  Canute ruled Denmark from 1080-1086.  Canute and his brother were murdered in 1086 by revolting peasants.  Murder of King Canute IV

Many historians consider “King Canute the IV” to have been Denmark’s last Viking king.  In 1100 or 1101 he became the first Dane to be canonized by the Catholic Church, making him Denmark’s first Catholic Saint.  Saint Canute’s Cathedral is of coursed named after King Canute the IV, and the presence of his Saintly remains made the Cathedral a common site of pilgrimages during the Middle Ages.

The remarkable wood carved altarpiece in Saint Canute’s Cathedral on its own makes the Cathedral worth visiting.  Claus Berg carved the altarpiece between 1513 - 1523.  One look at this magnificent altarpiece and you will understand why it took him 10 years to complete the project.  The altarpiece stands 5 meters high, and has over 300 incredibly detailed carved figures that are gilded in 23-carat gold leaf.  The majority of the figures depict the life and death of Christ. Claus Berg’s altarpiece is unquestionably one of the finest medieval works of art in Denmark.

The Cathedral grounds are very picturesque, and make for a fine place to go for a stroll or to sit down and enjoy a nice summers day.  However, be aware that during the summer months the Cathedral grounds can be quite crowded with tourists and local alike.

History of St. Canute's Cathedral

The history of Saint Canute’s Cathedral dates back over 900 years.  The cathedral you see today is not the first church to be built on this location. The remains of an earlier travertine (a type of limestone) church have been found under the modern day building, and these remnants can still be seen in the crypt today.

The year 1095 marks the first mention of a church on this location.  The writings of the English monk Ælnoth mention the travertine church, which according to his writings was under construction at the time.  Archaeological evidence does suggest that this was the first church to be built on this location.  However, there is speculation that the site may have held some importance during pagan times.

The English monk Ælnoth’s writings tell of the travertine church, which was under construction.  However, it is not know when this church was completed, and very little is know about the early history of this church.  Ælnoth’s writings do say that King Canute the IV and his brother’s remains were moved into the crypt in 1095, so it can be assumed that construction was well underway at that time.

In either 1100 or 1101 Canute was canonized, which made him Denmark’s first Catholic Saint.  This had a great effect on the importance of St. Canute’s Cathedral within Denmark’s religious community.

The travertine church partially burned down in 1247, and Gisico (the bishop of Odense from 1286 - 1300) began the first stages of building a new Cathedral to replace the old, inadequate, damaged building.  The new Cathedral was built in stages around the old church, and sections of the old church would be dismantled as newer sections were completed.  The project took nearly 200 years to complete, and was only completed in 1499.  Further additions were added in the 1580’s, and in 1586 the main tower was completed.  Since 1586 very little of the main structure has changed aside from a number of restorations.

St. Canute’s Cathedral was an important Danish Cathedral throughout the middle ages, especially during the Danish reformation.  The presence of Canute IV the Saint made the cathedral a pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages.

“King John (Hans) of Denmark” (Hans af Danmark) who reigned from 1481-1513, and his wife Christina of Saxony are also buried in the Cathedral.

Who Murdered Canute the Great?


The Cathedral is open daily from:

April to October 10-17
November to March 10-16


Cathedral Head Office
Klosterbakken 2
5000 Odense C


(+45) 66 12 03 92

LastUpdate: 2016-07-10 22:30:40